Chennai, 10 May 2017: Air quality results from Poes Garden and the posh Boat Club indicate that the city cannot escape pollution by merely pushing all dirty industries to the poorer working class areas along the city’s margins, and particularly North Chennai. “Chennai can never dream of clean air as long as it considers Ennore, Manali in the north or Alathur in the south to be industrial sacrifice zones. Our experience from Delhi tells us that the sources of local air pollution may be tens of kilometres away from the city,” said Shweta Narayan of Community Environmental Monitoring.
Coastal Resource Centre took a total of eleven 24-hour samples from Chennai and the edges of the Chennai Metropolitan Area in April 2017. Six of the worst samples are from locations in North Chennai – from NTO Kuppam on the Ennore Highway, Manali, Sivanpadai Kuppam (near Ennore Thermal Plant), Kodungaiyur, Kuruvimedu (near Vallur Thermal plant’s coal ash pond) and Seppakkam (near NCTPS’ coal ash pond). The samples collected at Sivanpadai Kuppam (Ennore), NTO Kuppam (Ennore Highway), Kodungaiyur and Manali had levels of PM2.5 that would be considered by the U.S. EPA as “Very Unhealthy – People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid all physical activity.”
Levels of PM2.5 in Poes Garden and Boat Club would be considered by the U.S. EPA as “Unhealthy — People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion.”
The elevated levels of iron and calcium in all samples, including from Poes Garden and Boat Club, suggest that coal combustion in industrial or power plant boilers may be a significant contributor to the urban pollution load. “There is a case to be made that emissions from coal ash dumps, thermal plants and industrial boilers, which can be re-suspended, has created regionally elevated levels of iron and calcium particulates in Chennai,” said Dr. Mark Chernaik, staff scientist at US-based NGO ELAW-US, who interpreted the results.
The Ennore region alone has 3330 MW of installed coal power plant capacity, with more than 1500 acres as dedicated coal ash dumps. Another 6430 MW is proposed to be added in the coming years taking total capacity to 10,000 MW.
”The high concentration of polluting industries in the city’s northern and southern edges is affecting all of Chennai,” said Dr. Hisamuddin Papa, a leading pulmonologist from Huma Hospital. “North Chennai, with its dense working class population is particularly vulnerable as poor health exacerbates their poverty. But we cannot help them until existing industries continue to pollute, and more polluting industries are allowed to come up here,” he said.
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Note: The 24-hour samples were taken using filters fitted to a low volume air sampler and analysed for PM2.5 and heavy metals in Chester LabNet at Oregon, USA.